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Possible changes for ‘dark skies’ in El Paso

El Paso passed a ‘dark skies’ ordinance a decade ago meant to keep the glow of outdoor lights out of the sky at night. Developers and outdoor advertisers had until May to come into compliance with the dark skies ordinance. Reported to have health and safety benefits, the ordinance meant to put a dimmer on light pollution could be up for some changes.

“The dark sky change tomorrow is really so that billboard companies that currently have upward facing lighting don’t have to comply with the code the way that it was written,” Said Matt McElroy, director of city planning and inspections. “Originally, the code required them to come into dark sky compliance within 10 years. And so that’s being taken out of the code, and the billboard companies are being allowed to replace their upward facing lighting with LED lighting, which will reduce their power costs.”

Advocates of dark skies policies said that’s not in line with the spirit of the ordinance.

“It’s really pretty simple,” said Marcia Turner. “It just means that all outdoor lighting is directed downward to what you want lit, illuminated.”
Turner has been involved with the dark skies movement in El Paso since 2005, helping to make sure the ordinance was passed. She said that an exemption could weaken the ordinance overall.

“Once an exemption is granted for one type of industry,” Turner said, “everyone will be asking for exemptions and we will no longer have a dark sky ordinance.”

But city staff said this is a limited change.
“This particular change only affects outdoor advertisers,” McElroy said. “None of the other commercial builders or developers or contractors will be eligible for this exception. Again, it’s only for billboards, the rest of the dark skies ordinance stays in place.”

McElroy said the planning and inspections department has already received dozens of calls and emails in opposition to the ordinance change, while his department usually only gets a handful when ordinance changes come up.

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